Hurricanes men’s basketball opens NCAA Tournament against Buffalo

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Miami will likely have to beat powerhouses Kansas and Villanova in order to reach the Final Four, but the Hurricanes first have to get past the University of Buffalo Bulls in the Round of 64. Although the No. 3 seed Hurricanes are the heavy favorites, the No. 14 Bulls have the tools to pull off the upset.

Buffalo is in its second consecutive NCAA Tournament, the only two in school history, after repeating as champion of the Mid-American Conference tournament. However, the Bulls play under a new coach now and rely on a different cast of players. Former coach Bobby Hurley left for Arizona State and took guard Shannon Evans, the team’s second leading scorer, with him. The team’s leading scorer and MAC Player of the Year, Justin Moss, was expelled in August following his involvement with an on-campus theft.

Despite the setbacks, the Bulls (20-14) persevered and upset the top two seeds in the MAC tournament, Ohio and Akron, to reach the NCAA Tournament. As they had all season, the Bulls relied on three-point shooting to get past both teams. Buffalo attempted 28 and 27 threes, respectively, against Akron and Ohio, an increase from the team’s regular season average of 22 per game.

New Head Coach Nate Oats employs a run-and-gun style that is effective when the shots are falling, and ugly when they aren’t. Stopping the Bulls means limiting their drive-and-kick game that leads to open threes.

“Our concern defensively is two-fold. First, Buffalo is an excellent driving team. We’re going to have to take away the driving lanes from them,” Miami Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said in a video on the team’s Twitter feed. “But in the MAC tournament they made 11 threes in game one, 14 threes in game two and 10 threes in the championship game. So our defense on the three-point shot is going to be hugely important.”

The Bulls can get careless with the ball, as evidenced by their 13.7 turnovers per game, but they also look for quick scores following opposing turnovers. Redshirt senior point guard Angel Rodriguez may see an increase in playing time, as sophomore backup Ja’Quan Newton nearly averages more turnovers per game than Rodriguez despite playing seven fewer minutes.

Buffalo has struggled against the tougher teams on its schedule, going 1-7 versus Top 50 RPI teams. Although the Bulls are entering the tournament winners of their last four games, none of those opponents rank anywhere near No. 8 Miami in RPI.

Miami (25-7) won’t shy away from Buffalo’s up-tempo style but will embrace it, as the Canes like it when the pace of play is high. The Hurricanes play a somewhat similar drive-and-kick style, although they shoot far fewer threes. Miami enjoys the luxury of having multiple players who can create their own shots, namely Rodriguez, Newton and redshirt senior guard Sheldon McClellan.

McClellan comes into the matchup as the team’s leading scorer with 15.8 points per game and the nation’s 14th most efficient guard at 50.2 percent shooting. If Buffalo focuses on limiting McClellan’s touches, Rodriguez can simply look for sharpshooters junior guard Davon Reed and senior forward Ivan Cruz Uceda behind the three-point line, or senior center Tonye Jekiri in the paint.

The Canes play Buffalo at 6:50 p.m. on Thursday in Providence, Rhode Island on TNT.

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